Wellington is part of the Rockefeller Foundation's 100 Resilient Cities project. It's an ambitious project that aims to help cities prepare for challenges such as earthquakes or floods then bounce back fast when they happen. It's not only about disasters. There's also a focus on dealing with the myriad small stresses that can chip away at a city over time.

The Rockefeller Foundation gives member cities funding to hire a chief resilience officer. The money also pays for two years of expert consultancy. This helps the cities develop, then start implementing a resilience strategy.

Aecom associate director, sustainability and resilience, Marta Karlik-Neale, is Wellington's support partner.

She describes the role as unusual for a consulting engineering company. She says: "The city is the owner of the strategy. I have a client relationship with Wellington, but the Rockefeller foundation pays".


Karlik-Neale started work on the strategy in September 2015. She says she submitted a draft resilience strategy for Wellington shortly before the March 17 earthquake.

Overnight the priorities of the city changed and so did the political will. Karlik-Neale says: "Most of what we had was fine. But we shifted more focus on to earthquakes than we had before, that's natural. The strategy document didn't need a rewrite but there were changes."

The strategy is a list of 30 projects the council committed to in co-operation with other city organisations.

These include Wellington Water, the local chambers of commerce and district health boards. It also includes the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

Karlik-Neale says one of the focus areas for these projects is people and community.

"When we talk about resilience, it's not just about risk management or preparing for disasters. It's more about creating a city that is flexible, resourceful and knows how to respond to unknowns.

"So, for example, we need to encourage people in the community to work together. This means neighbours knowing each other and people learning how to run projects.

"In normal times, when there's not a disaster, these projects might be about, say, renovating a building or a working bee in a park or community gardens. Then when, say, there's an earthquake, people are able to organise themselves. They are not reliant on outside help."


Another focus area is decision-making. This includes governance, making sure the district planning is ready.

It's about having information and communication. So in a disaster, people know where to go to get fresh water or where to charge their phone.

It also means things like when people buy a property, they know what the risks are and how to minimise them.

Karlik-Neale says recovery is an often-overlooked area in disaster planning.

"People know to prepare for disaster and they put response plans in place. The other stage is getting back to normal. It's hard for business to recover when there's no office space or for children to go to school when there are no buildings. There's a need to bring services back online."

She says Wellington faces a planning challenge because the society is transforming at a rapid pace.

At first the plans assumed the population would grow by 30,000 over the next 30 years.

The new projection puts that number at 80,000. It's not only the growing number, the people are changing too. There's an ageing population and the ethnicity is changing.

Those people will have different needs.

Earthquakes and climate change are other challenges. Wellington doesn't face much of a threat from hurricanes and sea surges because of the harbour. Yet it has already shown it can be vulnerable to surface flooding. So part of the planning is to ensure the accommodation for the expected population growth isn't built in flood-prone areas.

Karlik-Neale says homes are the cornerstone of resilience.

"If something happens and your home is okay, then it's fine. You can deal with the problem. We need to not only make sure that homes are affordable, warm and healthy, but also that you can work from your home after an earthquake. That means making sure there is good communications and good electricity connections."

Electric vehicles have an important role to play. Karlik-Neale says on one hand they help to reduce climate change risk. In New Zealand, most electricity comes from renewable resources. Switching to electric vehicles is better than burning diesel or petrol.

In a disaster, electric vehicles become portable batteries. She says: "There is a technology that means you can plug them back into homes. Normally you charge your car at home, here you reverse the process. So if the power lines go down in a disaster you can power your fridge from your car. When the power in the car battery runs low, you drive off to a central point, get more electricity then drive home."

She says this illustrates a key resilience strategy: flexibility. It means things can serve more than one useful purpose.

Another example might be community gardens. One of the projects she is working with is around community gardens and urban farms.

They act as a way of building community and as a pleasant spot in normal times. In a disaster they can become meeting places and emergency management centres. People will know how to get there.

They might have fresh water tanks or places where people can top up electric vehicles. They are central spots for distributing emergency supplies and they can even grow food.

One aspect of resilience is centralising and decentralising functions. Something like water is centrally managed in a city, Karlik-Neale says.

"You have an organisation which has one big pipe bring water into Wellington. The likelihood of it breaking in an earthquake is high. To deal with this means designing the pipe so that it fails well. This means when it breaks, it's a clean break. And it breaks in a place where you can find it quickly and repair it fast."

The other strategy is to have a back-up distributed supply.

Wellington has had a campaign where it bulk-purchased rainwater tanks for people to buy at about half the usual price.

Their everyday use is to provide water for gardening. If an earthquake hits, you still have access to water. It may not be clean enough for drinking, but we need water for washing and other purposes. And in an emergency you can boil it or treat it.

Karlik-Neale says a key to a city's resilience is how you make use of bulk systems. This means understanding them and how they interact with each other. That's something a consulting engineering practice can bring to dealing with the problems.

Yet it is also about softer expertise.

"Resilience has as much to do with how a city is as what a city is. The way people interact and the mindset are important. It's very much about people. There was a change that took place during the 100 cities process.

"It started off being about infrastructure and doing things, at the end it was all about people. It's their ability and skills which are going to make the difference."